Thursday, May 27, 2010


Phnom Penh and the Costa de Cambodia

Phnom Penh and the 'Deluxe' Costa del Cambodia'

After the boat we were all piled into a minivan for the hour and half journey into Phnom Penh. It was a horribly hot journey and had the usual maniac driving and its share of unpaved pothole-full roads. We weren't really sure what to expect of the city but it definitely wasn't to see more Lexus jeeps and convertible mercs than tuk tuks! Just 20 minutes from poverty stricken village where people lived in straw huts on the side of the road we were suddenly immersed in proper city life. Although there was still the poverty, we saw the most begging here we've seen the whole trip.

We got off the bus and hopped in a tuk tuk which brought us through the manic traffic , past large shopping centres, traditional markets, begging children, monkeys, elephants and much more until we arived at our hostel 'Nomads'. We checked in and had a couple of hours before Ben would be arriving on his flight from Bangkok so we went in search of a cool drink to help deal with the immense heat and humidity here. The river was about a 5 minute walk from the hostel and although it had lots of nice cafes and bars the river didn't offer any respite from the heat. Our first impressions of Phnom Penh weren't great and we decided within an hour that we'd just stay here one night and move on the next day. It was a pretty dirty city and didn't really have much to offer. Ben arrived safely, settled into his matress on the floor of our roasting hot non-AC dorm room and we went for dinner. Haven't felt great since that dinner so another reason not to love Phnom Penh!

Next morning joind by Itchy / Toyota our Japanese dorm mate and his fan we hailed a tuk tuk and went to see the Killing Fields where the atrocities inflicted uder Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge Regime took place. It was a pretty sobering visit and horrific to think that this was going on for so long without anyone knowing. The museum was an interesting visit but most gut wrencing was the rows and rows of battered skulls they have excavated, the clothes and bones still coming upout of the ground surrounding the mass graves and worst of all the tree still standing which they used to kill babies by hotting them against it. It was not a pleasant visit and we were glad to leave our offerings and go. That afternoon we boarded the 4 hour bus to the 'Costa de cambodia' as it's called to stay for a couple of nights in a small town called Sihikoville. After 3 days away form the coast we were craving a sea breeze and some water that was clean enough to get into!

We spent 2 nights at the coast , visiting Otres beach and Bamboo island. The beaches weren't amazing on the mainland and many had a disgusting amount of rubbish as well as hoards of children selling everything and anything they could but Bamboo Island was definitely worth a visit and a stay if one had the time. Little huts on the beach with hammocks outside and clear waters and hardly another person in sight. we took the standard day tour which included brekkie, lunch and snorkelling , however for just 10 dollars more you could have deluxe snorkelling equipment and be able to buy a beer or even a mojito on board and enjoy it up on deck!! This was the sales pitch the American guy behind the tour desk was giving us. It went something like this (think heavy American accent and fat American):
'So, I'm not sure what your budget is but for 25 dollars you can get the deluxe tour, it had a much bigger and better boat - with a sun deck and for breakfast there are pastries, tea and coffee and donuts. Here's a picture of where you can eat your breakfast. Here's a picture of the delicious 10 plate buffet lunch with all sorts of Asian dishes. It's really awesome. Here's the deck where you can buy a beer and sit upon top on your way back. Her's a picture of a guy who used to work on this tour. he doesn;t work her either anymore. Here's me with the manager (shows us pic of him and manager looking like they're mid yoga session half undressed on top deck!) Here's me having my firts Mojito - of many, chuckle chuckle!! Oh and here's a picture of the DELUXE snorkelling gear - with flippers. Here's some pictures of some of the wildlife you might enounter on the trip (shows us a pic of a dog and a cat and a random bird). Here's the Thong tree where anyone who loses a flip flop attached the other one onto the tree. Here's the tree that says 'No Drugs' , I think it's just under this tree though that rule - chuckles to himself again. And on he went.....!!!!! We opted for the standard tour but were very grateful to him for the amount of entertainment and mileage we've been getting out of his sales pitch since!!

The beach in the town was a cool place to go at night , chilled bars with comfy wicker chairs and cushions, the customery fire throwers and excellent 3 dollar bbq. From here we took the not so deluxe night bus to Siem Reap. Basically 10 hours of bumpping around, not much sleep and some terrible Cambodian music video channel blaring, not to mention some really annoying Irish girls yabbing away in the rows behind us! We arrived in just before 6 am. I was exhausted after maybe getting a coupe hours sleep max.All I was thinking about was getting to our hotel, having a shower and going to sleep.Just as I was walking around the other side of the bus to try and get our bags I encountered a huge muddy puddle.There had been one the other side two but this one looked more crossable. I picked my line and handluggage on shoulder I hitched up my trousers, stretched out my leg and placed my flip flop on what I thought was a solid piece fo ground. How wrong could I be! It was like being in slow motion. My foot sank, I went to grab the side of the bus, couldn't reach, the uneven weight of my bag on one shoulder threw my balance further and within seconds I was spalt in the muddy puddle, absolutely clattered in muck!! I turned around to see Jo and Ben staring wide-eyes and trying not to laugh. They very kindly waited until I laughed first, well what else could one do!Then we all proceeeded to keep laughing about it for a while while they pulled me out of the free , smelly mud bath I'd just given myslef and my bag. Thank God I didn't have my huge rucksack on at that time or I'd had to have been craned out!

The tuk tuk driver looked at me a little quizically as I boarded his clean tuk tuk and the woman at the hostel very kindly helped me wash most of the mud off me on arrival. It was a lot of action before 6.30am! Sien Reap had a nice feel to it, after a couple hours siesta we took a tuk tuk to one of the temples nnear Angkor Wat and watched the sunset, Unfortunately along with 100's of other people and a cloudy sky but we had to try! That evening we had dinner in 'Ecstatic Pizza' which was beside Happy Piza and Happy Herb Pizza! Not sure what kind fo herbs they put in happy herb Pizza but Ecstatic Pizza was pretty good and we coined 'Ecstatic Shake' there by adding Kahlua to our no sugar cocunut shakes much to the amusement of the staff. leaving with full bellies and a sounvenir T-shirt for Ben we hit the night markets and as usual got addicted to the buzz of bartering. One watch for Ben, a skirt for Jo and a bracelet and shotglass for Jane later we returned to our hostel in order to get some sleep before our 3.45 alarm.

By 4am the next morning we are on the road again, this time on pedal power and heading for one of the ta Phrom Temple which we hoped to reach by 5am in order to see the sunrise and hopefully not have to share it with anyone else. After a , fun and sweaty ( even at 4 in the morning) cycle in the dark we reached the temple. It was amazing and having the place to ourselves for almost 3 hours was well worth getting up so early for. We spent the rest of the morning visiting some of the other temples and decided by the time we got to Angkor Wat itself just before midday we were almost templed out if it! having seen the amount of tourists at every other temple that morning we felt really privliged that we'd managed to have a temple to ourselves for so long earlier in the day. A lot of sttep steps and pictures later we emerged form the temple and hopped back on our bikes for the final effort back to the hotel. We just beat the rain and are now having our siesta in the very hot room while a huge thunder and lightning is goinng on outside.


Chau Doc and floating markets

Cu Chi tunnels Vietnam


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mui Ne to Phnom Penh

Beach bumming, bikes and buses.

Arrival in Mui Ne - last day of Easy Rider Tour -Our hotel seemed to be run by 2 men, possibly father and son. The son was a fat, lazy groce man who alternated between his hammock or bed most of the day and anything that we asked him about he called the older man in to do. The older man was really sweet and looked after us well, including fixing the buckled wheel on one of our bikes and going off on his scooter to get tomatoes when we ordered tomatoes and fruit for our breakfast. Most of the hotels have these huge menus and you wonder how they can possibly keep all that stock of food when they aren't that busy.What they actually do is take your order and then go off and buy the ingredients they need. Takes a while sometimes but you kow it's fresh!

On our last day we thought we'd get up extra early to order breakfast before the bus came as we now knew the bus could turn up any time.Usually they turn up early, but still manage to arrive late! However we weren't counting on it taking quite so long for them to go get the ingredients for our brekkie and ofcourse the bus arrived early so we scoffed down our omelettes and bread. The sweet old man who'd being busy making our juices for us (still with his helmet on!) quickly transferred them into a plastic bag, shoved a straw in the bag and tied it up with an elastic band and off we went with our bagged juices in hand! We boarded the bus, admired the horrendous tacky curtains and marvelled at the unusual amount of leg space and settled back for the next 5 to 6 hours it would take us to get to Saigon.

We arrrived in late in the afternoon, checked into our hostel and organised a tour for the next day and some onward travel plans.It was Friday night in Saigon (Ho Chinh Minh City) and it had been a while since we'd had a night out so we donned our dresses and dancing sandals and headed out for dinner a beverage and wherever the night would take us.We had a lovely meal in a restaurant called Cappuccino (recommend if you're ever there!) It had a riducously large menu which took forever to decide what to have but was very tasty and worth the difficult decision!

From here we took up a prime people watching spot in one of the bars with outdoor deck chairs on the main social corner and watched highly amused and at the same time so embarrassed for them as 3 very drunk English girls danced on a wall in the bar opposite us, alternating between some bizarre moves, trying not to fall off and taking half their clothes off.Classy girls! It was at this point the police made an appearance and thankfully they were soon fully clothed again and still entertaining the whole bar and the bar on the opposite side of the street!!

At the table next to us in the bar we were in there were were some very coiffered local girls who were having their shoes cleaned and polished at the table by some local guy who pulled up on his bike with a few shoe cleaning items. After he'd cleaned all the leather shoes in sight he moved onto giving their boyfriends neck and shoulder massages at the table. If only bars at home provided these services!! After we had milked our one drink at this bar for its whole 2 dollars worth in people watching we decided to go across the road to the bar where the drunken girls had been. Thankfully they had stumbled off somewhere else and it seemed like a good time to get a different angle and perspective for the next hour of people watching! We have come to the conclusion that Vietnam is so far the best country we've ever been in for people watching. There is never a dull moment and always something or someone to entertain you.We had locals doing some weird begging dances in the middle of the street, a backpacker in a dress 5 sizes too small for her pretending to be a fairy/ballerina and dancing from one side street to the other trying to attach herself to random passers by aswell as the regular children out trying to sell whatever they could.

At 'Crazy Buffalo' we orered some exotic juices which caught the attention of an Argentinian football team sitting behind us who proceeded to order a round of exotic juices. We had started a trend of non alcoholic juice ordering, more expensive than a beer the staff were probably loving this! For the next hour or so I slowly but surely immersed myself back into Spanish and by the end off the night it felt weird to be speaking English again! Grammar still all over the place but it was good to know I could be understood and understand for the most part. we ended up going dancing in the bar across the road for the rest of the night and felt like celebrities when a gang of local girls wanted to dance with us. They are so pretty and so so tiny that we felt like giants beside them even in flats. They wiggled around amongst us for the night and probably thought our dance moves were bizarre! We walked our 500 metres home to our hotel just before 4am only to find the shutters and gate down and locked on our hostel. After a moments panic we noticed a bell and unfortunately had to wake up the night porter. He didn't seem to mind though. We grabbed a few hours sleep and then it was up at 7 to go visit the tunnels. Thankfully it was a 2 hour drive so we were able to catch up on some sleep!

The old war tunnels were really fascinating, built by the Cu Chi tribe , about 2 hours outside of Saigon during the Vietnam / American war. The local tribe here were determined not to lose their land to the Americans and fought hard to protect it. Men , women and children joined in on the fighting and they became a very successful and resourceful tribe who in the end ,through pure determination and effort won back their freedom and with it their land. The tribes used old parts of American bombs, grenades and shells to make them into their own weapons and traps. They made some amzingly clever traps which they had made replicas of at the site. We saw many of them in action and I can tell you I would not like to be at the receiving end of any of them!

The tunnels were very narrow and dark. We only went down about 6 metres but some of them go down up to 100 metres. It was kind of claustrophobic and I wouldn't be at all keen to have to spend any more time than the 5 or so minutes we did in them. As the only form of protection the tribe actually built whole villages underground accessed by a series of tunnels. Families lived under the ground for years and many children were born and raised in these tunnels.After the tunnels we were given the opportunity to shoot some of the guns that were used during this war. After not being able to hear for almost a whole day after my last shooting experience on a former trip I decided I didn't really need to do any more shooting and we settled for a cup of herbal tea and some tapioca dipped in crushed peanut and sugar instead. Very random but surprisingly tasty!

Another 2 hours back on the bus to Saigon stopping enroute at a handicraft factory where all the work is done by handicapped people (their choice of words). The factory was so potent with varnish, I have no idea how anyone could work all day in these conditions. The work they were doing,all by hand was really amazing, sticking egg shells onto pottery, hand carving mother of pearl, hand varnishing and polishing furniture, weaving baskets and hand painting intricate designs. Unfortunately the stuff in the shop area was ridicuously over priced and not one person on the tour bought anythiing. It was a shame as the stuff was beautiful and would have made good souvenirs, although just as well really as it would have been another unecessary weight for the already overflowing bags!.All hot and sticky after going through the tunnels we piled back on the bus and 2 hours later and some more sleeping later we were back in Saigon where we had about 10 minutes to get our bags together before the taxi came to bring us to the bus station where we would be catching a bus to another bus station and then from there 4 hours to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta.

After a partcularly uncomfortable bus ride to meet the other bus perched with my 20 kilos on back and 10 on front on a broken bus seat we finally arrived at Can Tho. Can Tho was a fairly uneventful stop. We got a hotel near the market area and grabbed some cake for dinner as apart form dodgy looking street food this was the only food place open that late. Followed by a juice at the river we then had an early night in preparation for our 6 am start to get the 1 hour boat trip to the famous Floating Markets.

By 6.15 after a bit of wheeling and dealing we agreed on a price and boarded a tiny and very rocky wooden boat being skilfully manoeuvered by one of the local women in her pyjamas. We're not sure if they really are pyjamas that all the women wear at any time of the day, but they all go around in matching tops and bottoms that look very like pyjamas!Up the mekong River we chugged passing tonnes of very unstable looking wooden, straw and bamboo houses on stilts. It was only 6.30 and the sun was already giving off a burning heat. Locals were up and about for hours already. we watched them in their stilt houses as we motored past doing their morning exercise or standing knee deep in the really manky brown river doing the laundry. Some who lived on boats were using a bucket to fish water out of the river to boil for tea and cooking and some were simply taking their morning wash using the bucket technique to fish up the water. As we sat on our wooden plank seat in the rocky boat I thought how worlds apart our lifestyles are and felt immensely grateful for everything life had to offer us and humbled by how simply these people live.

Unfortunately Vietnamese people don't seem to have any concept of how wrong it is to throw litter and much of the country is heavily littered, especially market areas and rivers. It amazed me how they chucked the rubbish off their boats and out of their stilt houses into the very water they use to wash themselves and their clothes in and furthermore use for cooking. They must have stomachs of iron!Our driver skillfully maoueuvered us in and around the selling boats and we were soon nibbling on greasy pastries and a whole watermelon. It was a great experience but not quite as colourful as I thought the floating market would be. However, I think that there was a bigger market on a bit further but the deal we bartered for was only to bring us to one market so we couldn't really complain.

That afternoon we squashed into a taxi with our bags and two Finnish girls and this brought us to the bus station where we then boarded aother small mini bus , got given 2 seats up with the driver which was a good view but also a little scary as you see what's happening before anyone else which isn't always a good thing! We were soon travelling at high speed down the road, horn beeping every 20 seconds and some dodgy Vietnamese music on board. There were quite a few incidents of passenger breaking on my behalf and a good few times when I don't know how the person on the motorbike beside us stayed on as we must have grazed their side we were so close to them.

In the last hour of the journey we were coming into a much more rural area and the most popular local form of transport seemed to be a tractor pulling a trailor type of contraption. It had minimal sides and 5 or 6 planks horizontally placed acting as seats on which there were usually an average of 10-15 passengers piled on. Not sure if this is some form of local bus but it didn't look too stable. About 15m up ahead of us there was one with just 3 passengers , including an elderly and very fragile looking woman perched up on one of the precariously positioned planks, bouncing around as the driver failed to slow for of the numerous potholes. Next thing we know we are screeching to a halt, the horn is blowing for longer than usual and the locals in the bus are shouting in a concerned way. I looked up to see the old woman flying off the 'trailor / bus' and doing a Bond like roll onto the tarmac. We screeched to a halt only metres from her as she was being helped up by someone else who appeared from nowhere. We simply took a little detour swerve aroud her and kept going, but I was relieved to see she was up and walking as I looked back upon the scene. That had to have hurt and I'd very surprised if she didn't have at least one broken bone. The incident didn't seem to faze the locals too much so maybe this was a regular occurence!

On arrival at the bus station we woke up the one and only taxi driver who was asleep in his car in the corner of the carpark. It must have been siesta time as the bus driver beside him had strung his hammock up in the bus aisle and was taking a nap too! We shared a taxi with the two Finns to the centre of town. Chau Doc is a small town on the Mekong River which is a popular area to leave from to cross the border into Cambodia arriving at Phnon Penh. That evening we picked our way through the filthy fruit, veg and everything else market avoiding the scurrying rats , ate dinner in a very local restaurant and were tucked up in bed by 8.30 in preparation for being woken up at the usual time of around 4am when things start kicking off in Vietnam.

At 4.30 I woke to the sound of a van reversing outside our bedroom window. I knew he was reversing because the Vietnamese have a tendency to have a Christmas medley as their reversing sensor sound effect - very entertaining , just not very seasonal! So after a few rounds of Santa Claus is coming to town and Jingle Bells I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to get much more sleep and we got up earlier than planned and made our way to the boat dock. We decided to take a cyclo , which is a bit like a rickshaw pulled by a local on a bike. We thought we'd get one each to take us the 1k to the dock. We weren't being lazy but our bags really do feel like they weigh a lot more than 20kg now and the Vietnam sun gets very hot very early. The cyclo guy told us no problem he'd fit us both and all our bags on the one cyclo. We looked at him in amazement as he loaded first our bags and then us. We estimated he was pulling around 180kg by pure pedal power. I really don't know why there aren't any famous Vietnamese cyclists, this guy would sail up Alpe D'huez without all the load onboard!!

Once we'd carted all our stuff down onto the Floating hotel where our boat was to leave from we spent the next half hour negotiating an upgrade onto the fast ferry rather than spending 8 hours going down the Mekong River. Technically we had paid the price of the fast ferry but the woman in the hostel where we booked them ripped us off and charged us fast boat but only bought tickets for slow boat. We argued with her over the phone till we were blue in the face, but all in vain. Eventually the ferry company took pity on us and gave us a discount to upgrade. By 7.30 we were on board and chugging up the river. About an hour and a half in we stopped at passport control and then again 20 minutes up the river on the Cambodian side. The whole boat journey took just over 4 hours. Welcome to country 13 of the trip- Cambodia! Pics to follow

Easy Rider Trip

easy Rider trip

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The 'Real Vietnam' and a free Honda tatoo

Day 1 Eddie (Kanh) and Anh arrive to pick us up at 8.30 and we gaze at the bikes and wonder how all our gear will actually fit on these bikes with 2 humans aswell! However, true to their word within about 10 minutes they had all the bags loaded and us and we hit the road. Getting out of Nha Trang itself didn't do much for my nerves. As we swerved in and out of bikes, cars, pedestrians, cyclos and women wheeling sandwich stands along the road I wondered how my nerves were actually going to withstand 3 days on a motorbike and I sent another prayer up to keep us safe.

Our first stop was a samll fishing village on the way out of town. Here we had our first pic of many for the day taken. Turns out our driver was very into taking pictures. We carefully climbed off the bikes being careful not to hit our legs off the exhaust. We had been warrned of the backpacker Honda tatoo and were determined not to get one! Eddie pointed out the colour scheme of all the local fishing boats, painted blue to represent the water, some red to represent the Vietnamese flag, yellow for the sun and white to represent the wind. The boats made for a very pretty picture as we stood with our lovely helmets on watching the locals hard at work. They also have these great little round basket boats here which are made of bamboo and tire and they paddle around in these filling them with fish.

As we moved up and inland from the coast the scenery started changing dramatically. Soon we were whizzing past lush green paddy fields and temples in the middle of nowhere. Being on the bike is a great way to take in Vietnam life through all the senses. We saw more than we ever would have out a bus window and the smells of rice, corn, bamboo etc. were amazing. Admittedly there were some places where you'd rather not be able to smell what you were going by! We were amazed at the differenece in housing. Dwellings ranged from a simple straw or bamboo shack to a giant mansion and anything inbetween. We asked the guys where the mansion owners got their money from and we were told these people were the ones who owned coffee plantations or struck lucky some other way. After Brazil Vietnam is the biggest exporter of coffee in the world-seemingly!

We pulled in off the side of the road numerous times for scenic pictures and often the bike would go on ahead and we would catch up walking. This was to give our bums a rest! We got so many strange looks from locals going by on their bikes or tractors probably wondering where on earth two Western girls were off to in the middle of nowhere. We really were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by bamboo forests , old war bunkers and paddy fields. The landscape was hilly and colourful and we marvelled at the men and women working high up on the steep hills planting coffee trees or cutting down bamboo.

That morning we stopped at a coffee plantation, a cocoa tree farm,a black pepper tree farm, a mushroom farm and a brick making factory. The brick making was run mainly by women , except for one or two men who did some of the shovelling. I had a go of cutting some of the bricks off the conveyer belt and embarassingly messed up the first batch and lost them at least 8 bricks! I soon got the hang of it and kept going for another few minutes. I really don't think I could stand there all day doing that though! It was really interesting to see how they made them, I'd never really thought about the process of making a brick before and how much work is actually involved.

We learnt so much over these days in the highlands including how mushrooms grow from sawdust, how trees are tapped for rubber and how rice and cashew nuts are harvested. That was just day 1! We passed so many weird and wonderful contraptions of vehicles , I couldn't help but smile and think how much you'd love all their tractors Dad! Some very similar to Alice Chamber in style. We drove over dirt tracks and sand, through tiny minority villages with a population of about 50 and passed so many smiling waving children on their way to and from school. They almost always had a big smile, wave and a hello for the rare passing westerner and we will never forget the sound of their laughter or their bright smiles.

We stopped for lunch in a roadside cafe that couldn't be any more local. It had the obligatory red plastic kids chairs, dirt all over the ground and on every cooking surface ,men sitting around drinking beer and a giant flat screen TV blaring in the corner. This contrasted nicely to the ancient, looked like a small bomb had hit it stereo system underneath it. On the upside the food looked and smelt really good, apart from when I spotted all the chicken boiling whole in a big pot.

There was no menu it was get what you were served up which was fried rice and chicken. It was very tasty albeit quite chewy chicken but better than first impressions gave! Sufficiently full we hopped back on the bikes and onward bound. We passed more women working ,the men are very lazy here and spend most of their time sitting around in hammocks drinking beer, watching TV or playing backgammon-like board games. Meanwhile women and children layed out rice and cashew nuts on the side of the road to dry. Some places the road only had a narrow passge left in the middle and you had to carefully manoeuver your way though the drying products.

At about 5 pm, after a long day in the saddle we arrived in a small town called Lieu Son in the Daklak region. This was a minority viallage of an ancient hilltribe who after the war had been moved down to lower ground and given money and resources to set up life here. As we approached the village (which consisted of 2 streets with long bamboo shacks on either side) we were met by 4 huge elephants ! It wasn't a sight we were expecting! We stopped at the one and only restaurant in town and picked up our key for our 'homestay' where we would be sleeping in some family house. We're not sure if they moved out and slep tnext door for the night or they kept this space just for visitors, but we only caught glimpses of them coming and going as we went to and from our outside bathroom.

The houses are built up on stilts to keep predators away and room for storage of livestock underneath. Up to 15 people may live in the one room at one time, sometimes up to 4 different families. Our house was completely empty except for 4 mattresses on the floor with a mosquito net and a fan. Oh the simple life! We headed down to the lake for a sundowner beer and watched as the elephants were taken for their evening bath. We'd only spotted two other Westerners the whole day and felt pretty privlidged to be spending the night in this village.

When we got up to pay for our beer our height was the cause of great amusement with the local men. With no English they amused themselves by measuring themselves up next to us and marvelling how tall we were. Luckily they didn't highlight how big my feet were which has caused great amusement amongst the women of Vietnam!!After our beer we had a quick shower ,luckily it was too hot to need hot water because there wasn't any. After our showers we headed for the restaurant where we were meeting the guys. We were still full after our huge lunch and had not being expecting them to order for us. The table was laden with food minaly pork, pork and more pork, pretty much every part of the pig was on the tble in some form or other! Very apologetically we explained that we didn't eat pork and that we weren't really that hungry. They wouldn't hear any of it and soon there was a plate of fried eggs, some green veg, some snake fish (which made me wretch) and a plate of whole chicken chopped up , all bones and fat included and covered in sauce (yum!!!)

We managed the egg and greens and Jo took one for the team and downed her 'happy water' aka rice wine in one go. Her facial expression was far from happy after that shot! Smelling like tequila and tasting like whiskey I took a sip to be polite but knew if I downed it it wouldn't stay down for long!I'm gettign too old to do shots that don't taste nice!After a couple of traditional Vietnamese cocktail stick puzzles we were off to our house on stilts and soon tucked up under our mozzie nets. We went to sleep to the sound of weird and wonderful animals and insects and awoke at about 4am to more of them. Welcome to the real Vietnam!!

Day 2:
We woke up at the crack of dawn to the sound of birds and more unknown animals and insects and headed to 'the' restaurant again for some greasy fried egg omelette and bread. Starting to crave cereal or simply something different than egg and bread usually accompanied by a pile of vegetable oil. After brekkie it was time for our elephant ride. We climbed up the ladder and hopped onboard 'Nellie' whose driver was securely positioned barefoot on her neck. We were given some traditional hats to wear and felt very touristy as we headed off down the road and across the Paddy fields for our hour trek. After a few snack stops (for Nellie) we arrived at the river / lake and presumed we would just be going in for a little dip , maybe up to the elephants ankles. The driver / rider every so often would make clucking noises and other strange sounds at Nellie so we presumed they were a well in tune team. We soon learnt otherwise!

Withing 5 minutes it was clear our elephant man had no control over what Nellie would do or where she would go and soon enough we were up to her belly in manky dirty water and he was getting a little bit flabbergasted at her. His solution to try and direct her back out towards the shore was to get out his mobile phone and play some soothing music. This didn't work, so he changed tack and went for some more poppy tunes. This also failed. As you may know Jo has a bit of a fear of boats and unclear water and I could feel her body tensing as the elephant went further and further in to the manky water. I wasn't really loving it myself but it was kinda funny at the same time! Although I felt for Jo and I tried to work out a plan how to keep a hold of Jo's hand and at the same time keep the camera and wallets out of the water if we went in (which at this moment in time was looking highly likely!)

The elephant man was soon right up on our seat with us , as the elephant's neck and head were completely immersed in the water, as was most of it's trunk and body. Our feet were now in the water half way up our calfs and suddenly Jo screamed. I looked down and saw a HUGE spider by her leg. This was not good. I hate spiders and now I was wondering what on earth else would be in the water . In my mind I saw us trying to swim away from water snakes, rats , fish and goodness knows what else. We stayed at this level for a good 15minutes and then thankfully Nellie decided she'd had enough and was able to be coaxed back out of the water. Phew!! We were very glad to be back on dry land and to be honest quite releived our hour on Nellie was up! We climbed off her and climbed back on the more reliable bikes!

On our way out of the village I popped my head into the local school, the children were all quietly sitting at their rows of desks immersed in repeating whatever the teacher was saying. It was lovely to see a school in action here and made me miss being in the classroom. I'm sure I won't be saying that after a few weeks back at work! As we were walking back to the bikes from the school we passed a few of the local men, typically drinking beer while lying in a hammock all before 10am! They were soon up on their feet to come and measure up against me and exclaim at how tall I was,it was all very amusing and as we said goodbye they asked us to come join them for a beer. It had been a long time since we'd had a beer before 10 in the morning and we weren't about to change that habit now. We said thanks but no thanks and in a few moments were back on the bikes and heading towards Dalat.

That morning we stopped at a Passion fruit farm and ate passion fruits straight from the tree, they were so delicious and sweet. We stopped at another market shortly after and bought some pineapple and mango for lunch which we ate at the top of a very steep set of steps in the middle of nowhere up in the mountains! As we got higher into the highlands the temperature started to drop and soon it was lashing rain. We stopped about 3 times during the day to donn the rain gear and cover up the rucksacks. We were really hoping tonight's accomodation would have hot water!

Our next stop was a bamboo bridge. We couldn't believe that people walked over this, let alone rode motorbikes over it, but it was surprisingly strong and obviously the huge gaps didn't prevent them ccrossing it. We watched as a group of young boys played around in the filthy water and gave their younger siblings their daily wash! Then it was on to the Silk Worm farm. This was fascinating. We watched the worms spin themselves into cocoons. They import the worms from China, feed them on strawberry leavs for about 2 weeks, then they start to make thier cocoon. After that they are brought to the silk factory where they are boiled and the silk is extrated from the worm. You can actually eat the worm after it has been cooked and removed from its cocoon - we declined this tasting!! It was amazing to watch the silk being made,the machines were so noisy and old looking and I pitied the young girls who had to man those machines all day without any ear protection.

We stopped at Elephant falls and the temple where the GIANT Happy fat buddha resides, he really is huge! While we went to check out big buddha the boys (our drivers) went to have some lunch. Wheen we met them in the 'restaurant' after our temple visit we were very glad we'd already eaten as the level of hygiene in this place was on a level all of it's own! There were dogs, babies, insects, and goodness knows what else lying around and any food we saw looked like it had been there for at least a week! The boys made Jo a passion fruit shake with the obligatory truckful of sugar in it and after that it was back on the bikes and the next stop was our stop for the night.

We had read in the guidebook that you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the French Alps in Springtime when you arrived in Dalat. Having read this we were both looking forward to chalet like buildings, a small village and hopefully boulangeries! Sadly I think whoever wrote this comment has never actually been to the French Alps and the only link was the cool mountian air! We checked into our hotel and thankfully there was hot water as we hadn't managed to dry off from our last soaking on the bike. We had a lovely warm shower, got back into the jeans and settled ourselves in a lovely restaurant with yummy food, hot chocolate, and live jazz and blues. We even treated ourselves to a glass of wine and a Baileys as we soaked up the atmophere and enjoyed a break from rice!! It had been another good day apart form my momentary lapse where I got the free Honda tatoo as I climbed on the bike - ouch!

Day 3:

On our way out of Dalat we stopped to visit 'Crazy House'. This is a hotel designed by a local woman who studied architecture in Moscow for 15 years. I think she must have spent some part of that time eating magic mushrooms while she was there if this design has anything to go by! The house is described as Gaudi meets Alice in Wonderland which is a very apt description. It is an amzing place which is still being completed, at present the restaurant and cafe are being added on.You can actually stay here aswell, although not sure I'd like tourists traipsing around my oom every day.

After Crazy House we visited another minority village called Chicken Village which is basically a tiny one way road with a few houses , a couple of shacks selling silk products and one giant concrete chicken! The story goes that a young girl from the area wanted to marry someone her father and tribe disapproved of. The only way he could get permission to marry her was if he went into the forest and found a chicken with 4 feathers or something like that hanging off the back of his legs. he was gone for days and days and eventually the young girl decided that she must go look for him. She found him dead in the forest and killed herself beside him. A very sad story and from the story the town is now known as Chicken Village and hence the giant chicken statue! After Chicken Village we drove through some more really cool rural towns where lots more children waving and saying hello and running after us down the road made us smile. One town we have christened 'crazy girl town' in which we stopped for a bit of shade and a drink stop. There was about 6 families living in this town , and one space that operated as the barber shop, mechanic, a bar and a bedroom! The guys dropped us off at one end ofthe one road village and we were t meet them at this one-stop shop. As we walked down the deserted street we felt like we were in some weird movie set, children and adults started appearing fromm both sides of the roads, some waved, some said hello , some just stared. However one girl, crazy girl, chased us down the road. Unfortunatey I imagine a vast amount of inbredding goes on in this town and we reckon she was the result of some of this. She muttered stuff at us and nervously reached out and touched us as if we were something alien to her eyes. Maybe she'd never seen a Westerner before, who knows. Anyway she followed us to the place where we were meeting the others adn proceeded to rob everybodies drinks in a crazy manner. There was a lot of shouting going on by the locals and eventually she was shooed out of the place with the crack of a stick like some stray dog. It was really sad to watch and a real eye opener and as the guys said, now you are really seeing some 'real Vietnam'. We weren't too sad to see the back of that town and within a few hours we were back near the coast, we could feel the heat rising but at the same time the sea breeze was a welcome feeling. We passed amazing sand dunes and red rock formation of which Mui Ne is famed for and soon we were settling into our hotel where we would stay for the next 3 nights.